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Libya's oil chief Ghanem defects, in Rome now

By Deepa Babington

ROME (Reuters) - Libya's top oil official Shokri Ghanem appeared in Rome on Wednesday, saying he had defected because of relentless bloodshed under Muammar Gaddafi's rule.

A tired looking Ghanem, whose whereabouts had been unknown for several days, made a brief statement to a few reporters in the basement of a Rome hotel that he had resigned as National Oil Corp chief because of the "unbearable" violence in Libya.

"The continuous blood spill, continuous war and loss of life make it impossible for anyone to work in this environment," said Ghanem, one of the most senior officials to desert Gaddafi.

"I left the country and decided also to leave my job and to join the choice of Libyan youth to create a modern constitutional state respecting human rights and building a better future for all Libyans."

Ghanem, a familiar face to oil reporters with whom he enjoyed friendly banters at energy conferences, appeared tense and a shadow of his former effusive self, politely answering questions briefly before leaving.

"We will see what will happen, it's too early to say," he said, when asked what he would do next and if he would join the rebel movement. "I need some sort of few days rest."

He said he had left Tripoli two weeks ago, and that some of his family remained there.

"LOT OF PRESSURE"

Born in Tripoli, Ghanem has decades of experience in the oil sector and took the helm of Libya's National Oil Corp. in 2006. Considered a reformer, reports emerged in 2009 that he had resigned in a turf war, but he was back at his post weeks later.

In Rome, he said had not seen Gaddafi "for months," but still hoped for a peaceful solution to the leader's fate. Gaddafi has shown no signs of stepping down since rebels in the east rose up against his four-decade rule in mid-February.

Asked if he thought Gaddafi would be willing to negotiate, Ghanem said: "Well he is negotiating sometimes. A few days ago he met with the South African president but of course we don't know what is going to happen."

When asked what the mood within the Gaddafi government was, he said: "What's happening in Libya is that there is a lot of pressure from within and from outside."

Ghanem, who normally led the Libyan delegation at OPEC, said oil production in Libya was "coming to a halt" because of the international sanctions.

"Very little is produced because you cannot export -- if you cannot export, you cannot produce," he said.

He added he would no longer represent Libya at OPEC.

(Editing by Jon Hemming)

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